Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is one of those films where you instantly know that it’s a classic. Not because it’s set in the sixties, but, because it genuinely feels like something from the golden age of cinema. Whether it’s the refrigerator filled with Key Lime Pie by Giles (Richard Jenkins), the neon signs over the rain-swept streets at night, interior shots of movie theatres playing classic films, or the film’s protagonist in Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who is a mute using sign language possessing a love for a creature which ends up being the only thing she can relate to. It’s with these images and scenes where get the the gist that we’re entering another world in an alternate reality.
The film has multiple scenes with nudity and its perception is subjective. The bareback of Elisa in her multiple trips to the bathtub for masturbation came off as a little overboard. Showing this engagement once would have been sufficient. When Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) returns home from a long hard day of work, his frustration is released when his wife removes a single breast from her bra as his prize. This was completely unnecessary, however, it added to the thrill of the story and the bizarre elements within the shocking images we saw in conjunction with the eccentric creature that resulted in this fantastic adult fantasy fairy tale.
From an earlier scene, we know that Strickland is apprehensive to Zelda (Octavia Spencer) but later on, with one line of dialogue, Del Toro tries to sell the audience on his refraining suspicion, “What am I doing interrogating the cleaning ladies!” We all know he’s smarter than that and should maintain his distrustful demeanor toward them. In the climax, when Shannon interrogates the Russian undercover Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he learns that the cleaning ladies were his targets all along in his attempt to recover the Amphibian creature (Doug Jones). First, he visits Zelda’s residence, after not getting a cooperative response with his severe intimidation, Zelda’s husband Brewster (Martin Roach) interfere’s and spills it.
Strickland is a snappy and sharp-witted man who is the voice of America within this story in representing the darkness and the light of American culture in the sixties. It would behoove the audience to believe that his next destination, is to interrogate Elisa and head directly to her residence. It serves the plot conveniently in that Strickland visits Zelda’s house first, one would only imagine a man as intelligent as him would head directly to Elsa’s first, considering the significant interactions she had with Strickland prior.
The film is a visual indulgence with lush cinematography by Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen (John Wick 3) and an incredibly amusing screenplay by Del Toro, filled with clever lines that evoke thoughts from different perspectives, like when Strickland discusses the two types of men: the ones who wash their hands before they use the urinal and the ones who wash their hands after. He goes on to add that the ones who wash both times suffer from a weakness in character. It’s not a consensus, it’s unanimous; we should wash our hands before we touch our genitals.
The Shape of Water is filled with all one could request from the fantasy genre. It’s bursting with an outrageous Amphibian man known as a ‘River God’, quirky characters like a Elisa, a lonely female janitor who uses sign language, and her best friend, Giles the elderly man, reminding us of his life’s regrets, that, if he could be eighteen again he would engage in more sex and take care of his teeth. The sign language, the musical score by Alexandre Desplat (Argo), and the desperate plea for a woman who searches for her place in this world and finds it within an Alien creature are all elements that continue to mesmerize us. Viewers will enjoy the glossy black & white dance number, where a full-blown orchestra wearing tuxedos performs for Elisa and the Amphibian man in front of a live audience. Whether it was in a hallucination or a dream, the dance scene is worth the viewing of this fantastic film.